Grammar Controversy: What Should A Teacher Do?

Is it possible to discuss the grammar controversy?

Many teachers are uncomfortable teaching grammar because they themselves do not have a firm grasp of some grammatical concepts, and they have immense frustration from grammar lessons. This frustration can be a combination: Teachers might understand the concepts, but they might not know the best way to present the information. Teachers might not have teaching materials. Teachers might also receive conflicting messages.

Educators don’t agree on the way or extent that teachers should cover grammar. You can see the grammar controversy on any ELA teaching forum. Eric Digest hosts many articles that discuss the controversy over teaching grammar.

An English teacher discusses the controversy in teaching grammar, and overall problems in teaching grammar like kill and drill grammar worksheets and not connecting grammar to writing. How can ELA teachers handle the controversy over teaching grammar?

These disagreements pose a problem because students must understand the language they speak and write. As jobs require communications in a variety of forms, writing is anything but an outdated need. Understanding language means that everyday grammar is important for students today.
The common core rightfully addresses grammar. Teachers must teach grammar. As I kept writing, reflecting, and thinking, I realized that the “grammar problem” is larger than teachers not knowing how to teach it.
NCTE states that grammar is the language that makes it possible to talk about language. What does this mean for people (teachers and parents) who never had grammar lessons?
As a parent, I see how experts emphasize math skills and reading habits. Parents are specifically told to count and read with their children.
That shouldn’t go away, and neither should basic facts that parents (hopefully) cover with their children: colors, shapes, locations, etc. Grammar was removed from the classroom in the 1960’s; do today’s parents have the skills to speak casually with their children about grammar? My thought is that the lack of knowledge from parents makes grammar harder to teach as students didn’t receive a casual introduction to it like they do other common skills.

I think the actual lack of grammar instruction from decades ago can be broken into five parts:

  1. Parents do not know how to help with grammar at home.
  2. Teachers do not want to teach grammar; teachers may have not seen successful grammar instruction as students.
  3. Parents do not want teachers to teach grammar.
  4. English language arts classes are heavily loaded with content. Many states require four years of English. When students do not perform well, graduating becomes a challenge. If grammar is difficult for students to master (or not taught at the best age for brain learning), administrators may shove it out.
  5. Grammar lessons are used as clobbering lessons.
Grammar can be taught in damaging ways. Telling students they speak incorrectly because they have a different lifestyle than their teacher does contribute to a larger problem in education. Grammar should not be taught as a punitive exercise. Rather, students should understand their language so they can use it in varying ways in varying situations.
I want to look at these five problems, and I would love to have teachers chime in. Hopefully together, we can address grammar, and make grammar instruction better for teachers and students. Ultimately, is it possible for everyday grammar discussions to be part of ELA classes? What do you think of the grammar controversy?

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